Wilkin tells a joke to veteran Joseph “Jiggs” Petrucci of Seneca Falls (far right) and Jiggs’ cousin, John B. Cafaro, also of Seneca Falls, after the Honor Flight banquet in Baltimore. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter)
Mark, a husky guy in sunglasses, black leather jacket and a full blond-and-gray beard, approached my father at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was quick with a handshake. And kind words. “Thank you for your service,” he told my dad, Harold “Jeff” Wilkin Jr. of Rochester, who spent the first half of the 1940s with the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII.
My 90-year-old father knows few motorcycle guys like Mark, a road captain with the Winston-Salem chapter of the national Harley Owners Group cycle club. But he met bunches of riders — and fellow veterans — during an Honor Flight out of Rochester on Sept. 17.
The Honor project has been around for a few years now — veterans from around the country are flown to Washington to see the inspiring war memorials and accept thanks from a grateful public. Folks who run the plane rides and sightseeing tours think the fliers, sailors, soldiers, nurses and support staffers never received grand welcomes home when the war ended in 1945. Days and nights in Washington are meant to be long-overdue celebrations.